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Canadians 'ashamed' Of Pm?

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WASHINGTON - The White House's drug czar lashed out Thursday at Jean
Chretien for relaxing marijuana laws and said Canadians are "ashamed" over
the prime minister's recent jokes about smoking pot when he retires.

John Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy Office, said
Chretien was being irresponsible when he said last week that he might try
marijuana when he leaves office next February.

Canadians "are concerned about the behaviour of their prime minister,
joking that he is going to use marijuana in his retirement," Walters said
to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"They're ashamed."

Canada is "the one place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong
(way) rapidly," Walters added. "It's the only country in this hemisphere
that's become a major drug producer instead of reducing their drug production."

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who is shepherding the federal
government's marijuana legislation through the House of Commons, responded
that Walters should "look in his own backyard" before criticizing Chretien.

"There are over 10 states that have in place what we call alternative
penalties, so you know, if it is not correct to move in that direction,
maybe he should spend some time talking to his own states," Cauchon said.

Walters' criticisms of Chretien came after an effort by the prime minister
to make light of his government's controversial decriminalization legislation.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, Chretien said he had never
tested marijuana, but might once decriminalization legislation is approved
by Parliament.

"I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no
longer be criminal," he said. "I will have money for my fine and a joint in
the other hand."

Jim Munson, Chretien's director of communications, declined to comment on
Walters' claim that Canadians are ashamed of their leader.

"I am not going to get into those kind of comments. I mean, they have their
point of view and we have our point of view," Munson said.

The prime minister, while joking about his own lack of personal experience
with marijuana, also spoke about the need to crack down on growers and
dealers of pot, Munson said.

The Chretien government is fast-tracking its legislation through the House
of Commons in a bid to ensure it receives final passage through Parliament
by the end of the fall session.

Prime minister-in-waiting Paul Martin has been lukewarm to
decriminalization and it is expected the bill would be reviewed if it
doesn't pass before Chretien leaves office early next year.

The bill was handed Thursday to a special parliamentary committee, instead
of the busy Commons justice committee, which wouldn't be able to hold
public hearings on the controversial legislation until after Christmas.

The marijuana bill proposes to decriminalize possession of 15 grams or
less, so that people would be fined from $100 to $400 instead of receiving
criminal records. But it also seeks to strengthen penalties against
marijuana grow operations.

The federal government, which is under intense pressure to toughen its
bill, is seriously considering several amendments. They are:

- - Lowering the amount of pot that would escape criminal charges to 10 grams
from the current proposal of 15.

- - Imposing criminal sanctions instead of fines on people who are repeatedly
caught with pot.

- - Adding a minimum mandatory sentence for people convicted of running
marijuana grow operations. The current bill proposes doubling the maximum
penalties, but critics say this is useless because judges seldom impose the
top sentence.

Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 2003
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Webpage: http://www.mapinc.org/cancom/5FDB399E-8E6A-432E-904B-7FAEA979CEC8
Copyright: 2003 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: letters@thejournal.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/